My interests centre around contemporary issues and themes in democratic governance and public policy. My research is generally qualitative and interpretive in nature. I have a particular interest in the following topics: deliberative democracy in theory and practice; bureaucratic encounters and policy feedback; democratic innovation and citizen engagement in the policy process; policy learning and the role of expertise in democratic politics; court politics in executive government; the politics of public health policy and social policy; and interpretive and qualitative research methods in the social sciences.
I am currently working on three main projects at various stages of development:
Magical Thinking in Public Policy (forthcoming in 2022 with OUP)
Drawing on in-depth case studies of initiatives to promote evidence-based policymaking, long-term prevention, collaboration, transparency and citizen engagement, I peer beneath the apparent 'magical thinking' that sustains enthusiasm for these ideals despite repeated experiences of frustration and failure in practice. Ultimately, I argue that 'magical thinking' in practice is much more rational and generative than growing cynicism in policy studies would suggest, and that policy actors persist stoically in support of these ideals because doing so helps them to reconcile and mitigate key dilemmas and challenges in their everyday work.
Weapons of the Meek: Everyday Acts of Administrative Resistance (funded by Leverhulme Research Fellowship, 2021-2022)
Despite innovation to address ailing trust in politics, democratic reformers ignore the most common way that marginalized citizens encounter the state: in the frontline implementation of laws, policies and services. We know citizens are not meek targets of state action. Ethnographic studies across health, education, planning and policing, reveal subtle forms of agency on the frontline, as citizens evade or challenge authorities. But what do these acts of resistance entail, and what are the impacts for trust in democratic institutions? I provide the first comprehensive analysis of citizen encounters across disciplines, sectors and jurisdictions to inform ideas about democratic renewal.
Lessons for Governing (ESRC Impact Acceleration Award with Jess Smith, Jack Corbett, R. A. W. Rhodes and Dan Devine, 2021-22)
We are working with the Institute for Government on analysing their Ministers Reflect archive. Ministers Reflect is a source of rare interpretive insight into the heart of British government, with an archive of over 100 semi-structured interviews with former Ministers in British government. The research team will draw on expertise in political ethnography and gender analysis to subject the archive to rigorous scholarly analysis for the first time. The award will also enable them to link emerging insights to existing expertise in executive government, and promote key lessons for governing in Britain.
Current PhD Students
I am an Associate Professor in Politics. My research and teaching are in democratic governance, public policy and public administration. Within the university, I lead our Masters in Public Administration programme. Externally, I co-edit the Routledge Series in Democratic Crisis and co-convene specialist groups in critical policy analysis for the ECPR and APSA. I also have a keen interest in interpretive research methods. I am one of the co-directors of the Centre for Political Ethnography at Southampton, and I co-convene graduate training in interpretive political science via the ESRC NCRM.